Jun 18, 2013

    Bitten by the travel bug - and loving it

    Travel and photography enthusiast Rodney Ee has set foot in 44 countries over a span of 15 years. While some people may find that exhausting, he says he is just getting his feet wet.

    The 40-year-old author started blogging about his travel experiences several years ago, which have culminated in a series of humorous anecdotes in his debut book, My Name Is Not Konnichiwa!, released last month.

    How did your passion for travel begin?

    When I was about six years old, my grandfather would take me and my younger brother to Changi Airport to watch the planes take off every weekend. All my wishing to be aboard a plane as well led to my passion for travelling.

    How did the title of your book come about?

    I visited Morocco in 2010. Everywhere I went, locals would yell "konnichiwa" at me. When I didn't respond, they would start calling me "Panasonic", "Toyota" or "Mitsubishi". This happened not just in the city, but in small villages as well.

    Many affluent Japanese tourists used to visit Morocco, thanks to a very successful Japanese tour agency. That's why Moroccans think every Asian is Japanese.

    Who are some of the most interesting people you've met during your travels?

    Definitely the people of Vanuatu, which is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. They are called Ni-wans.

    People there live in rudimentary conditions. Despite this, they were ranked first in 2006 in the Happy Planet Index - which measures sustainable well-being - published by the New Economics Foundation.

    I was deeply touched by their giving and hospitable spirit. Once, on the way to visit the Yasur volcano on Tanna island, I was stopped just so that the children's choir from a neighbouring village could sing to us as a welcome gesture. I can never forget about them.

    You have visited 44 countries (and counting). What's next on your list?

    Visiting 100 countries before I kick the bucket seems like a nice round number! (laughs) I haven't set foot in the continent of South America, so that is next. I have my eye on Chile and Peru.

    I would love to visit Kenya and Namibia in Africa, and the Holy Land in Israel as well.

    My Name Is Not Konnichiwa!, by Rodney Ee ($18.65 before GST), is out in major bookstores.